Shadowrun: Hong Kong Review
Video game designers often talk about the tension between narrative and gameplay. Finding a balance between character-driven beats and interactive gameplay sequences can be tricky. The Shadowrun series has tended to favor storytelling over gameplay, but Harebrained Schemes’ newest entry is even more story-driven than usual. You still have opportunities to calculate your attacks through a number of back-alley firefights, but this neon noir adventure involves more reading than arithmetic.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong begins as your character – an ex-con with a checkered past – first sets foot on Chinese soil. You’ve been summoned to the middle kingdom in search of your foster father who is missing and presumed dead. However, within minutes of passing through customs, you get into a firefight with the police and end up with an APB out for your arrest. The criminal underworld is the only place left to seek refuge as you begin your search for the truth behind your father’s disappearance. Like its previous work with Shadowrun, Harebrained Schemes has done a fantastic job building up a rich world full of believable characters. While this story contains a few predictable plot points, the overall writing and character development are well-done.
After endearing yourself to the local Triad boss, you spend most of your time organizing thefts, making back-alley deals for information, and running errands. Story missions often end with showers of bullets and blood, but the majority of the game involves dialoguing with NPCs; you regularly spend 10 minutes or more chatting with a single character. As much as I love talking my way out of a jam, Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s story feels top heavy, and I was eager for the action to heat up. Your choices help color the narrative and allow you to discover workarounds for any given obstacle, but the main plot is a river that only flows in one direction.
Once your enemies finally shut up and pull out their guns, you need to dive for cover and carefully manage your heroes’ action points as you lay down suppressing fire, unleash a series of offensive spells, or hack your enemy’s security drones to do your work for you. It feels like the difficulty has been tuned for seasoned pros, so newcomers might be in over their heads early on. Unfortunately, the tactical, turn-based mechanics don’t feel much different from those that Harebrained Schemes dreamed up two years ago with Shadowrun Returns. The studio clearly wants to please its fans by delivering another gripping campaign, but I wish the gameplay had evolved.
Harebrained Schemes has clearly spent a ton of time on narrative, character development, and world-building, all of which make it easy absorb yourself in the fiction. Sadly, the massive amounts of reading in Shadowrun: Hong Kong might exhaust players who are hungry for action, and the combat itself feels comfortable but well-worn. Shadowrun: Hong Kong is fun for a select audience, but doesn’t have the depth or innovation to stand out.